« AnteriorContinua »
present malignity is confined, but by its own intrinsic quality of evil-as introducing disorder into the government of God, and bringing misery and ruin wherever it enters. Viewed in this light, you will consider it as an act of the highest benevolence in God to warn you of the destructive consequences of sin, if continued in and unrepented of; and you will be convinced, that threatenings less severe than those which he has denounced against it, would not have answered this benevolent end, since even the threatening of eternal misery does not, in numberless instances, check the progress of iniquity, nor awe a rebellious world into a compliance with his will. Your safest course, therefore, is not to dispute and cavil, but to profit by the awful admonition of your Saviour and Judge, when he assures you, that when he will come again to judge the world in righteousness, (whereof God hath given assurance unto all men in that he raised him from the dead), he shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire. There shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Consider this, ye that forget God. Consider how short the time of your merciful visitation is, and how soon you may be summoned before the divine tribunal, to answer for the deeds done in the body, whether they have been good or whether they have been evil. Consider the terrors of a death-bed repentance, and the danger of trusting to it. And this is the more necessary with respect to such of you espe
cially as may have been once near the kingdom of heaven, but have drawn back. The longer that one continues in a state of backsliding, the greater is his danger of being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Perhaps your declensions in religion may be owing to new acquaintances and new connexions which you have formed in life, and your yielding to their opinions and manners with a view of conciliating their favour : and you may be so far gone as to dread the admonitions of a faithful friend, and to hate, as you express it, being catechised and controlled.-Perhaps your declensions may be owing to the books which you read. There are books, besides those that have been already adverted to—books which are eagerly sought after, whose direct tendency is to pervert the understanding, pollute the imagination, and inflame the worst passions of depraved nature: concerning which we may say, as a celebrated moralist once did, on hearing a young person of that sex, whose conduct ought to be above suspicion, quote a sentiment from one, not the worst, of these writings: “ If you have done so improper a thing as to read such a book, you should not do so immodest a thing as to avow it.” But where no such avowal is made, the thing itself is known to God. And if the exposure of the sentiments which writers of this class have been thus secretly permitted to infuse into your minds, would be disgusting and revolting to every sober, chaste, and virtuous mind, is it to be wondered at, that, though the outward form of religion is still maintained, its inward and vital power and energy are well nigh, if not entirely, gone ? Or, the declensions of which we speak may be owing to worldly-mindedness. Whatever tends to withdraw the heart from God and the concerns of eternity, must be extremely dangerous. We may be diligent in business, provided we be fervent in spirit; we may use the world, provided we neither abuse it, nor set our hearts upon it. He that would have the love of the Father in him, must not love the world, nor the things that are in the world : he that would be transformed in the renewing of his mind, must not be conformed to the world; and he that would not be the enemy of God, must not be the friend of the world. In short, it is impossible for a worldly and a spiritual principle equally to predominate in the same mind. Where the world is in the heart, the thoughts and affections are at a distance from God, even in the most solemn acts of religion. We cannot worship him in spirit and in truth, nor have any fellowship with him, even though we should still maintain the outward form of godliness. In each and in all of these cases, our first duty unquestionably is to humble ourselves before God; to deplore that alienation of heart from him, which is at once the evidence and the effect of our original apostasy ; to make immediate application to the fountain which is opened for sin, and which alone can wash away its guilt ; and to implore the renewing and sanctifying in-, fluences of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us wholly
in soul, body, and spirit, and to raise our affections to things above.
And let me persuade you, by the terror of the Lord, to guard against another very common and very fatal cause of spiritual declension—that of imagining that it is enough for you, that at some former period of your
you were earnestly engaged in enquiring what you should do to be saved. This is the case with many, and it may be the case with some of you. Your conscience was roused to a just sense of your danger. But it may be that the great enemy, who leaves no artifice untried to divert the attention of men from the concerns of eternity, has succeeded in your case, by engaging you in a succession of vain and frivolous and sinful pursuits, by means of which your convictions have been stifled, and your heart has become more callous than ever.
But this is a case which would require a more minute consideration than time will at present permit. The bare mention of it may, however, be useful in the mean while. And as many things are said and maintained, when in company with our fellow-creatures, which, were we to retire alone, and commune with God and with our own hearts, we should feel ourselves obliged to condemn, let us learn to set the Lord continually before us, that we may think and speak and act as rational and accountable beings. For, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them, of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.